Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
William Gibson hasn’t needed to prove his worth as an author for a long time now, consistently coming up with original, and perhaps even singular science-fiction stories, such as The Sprawl Trilogy. In 2014 he published The Peripheral, the first novel in The Jackpot Trilogy. The story follows Flynn Fisher and Wilf Netherton, separated by decades in the real world, but about to meet through a virtual world which seems to have sinister repercussions on real life.
Table of contents
William Gibson Reaches Back from the Future
The more we learn about time, the more it feels like we’re pulling in two different directions. On one hand, better knowledge of it and its nature would, logically-speaking, eventually open up venues for its manipulation. On the other hand, the more we learn about it, the more we seem to realize how impossibly difficult such a feat would be, but that hasn’t stopped the people of the 22nd century from finding a way, in William Gibson‘s The Peripheral, the first entry in The Jackpot Trilogy name.
To begin with, the story takes us to rural America, where we’re introduced to Flynn Fisher, living in the countryside where jobs are harder to find than the unemployed. Her brother Burton benefits from a government pension from the Veterans Administration, for the neurological damage he suffered as part of the Marines’ elite Haptic Recon unit.
Flynn used to work as a scout in an online game for a rich man, and made quite a lot more money than she is getting now at the local 3D print shop, but she felt she had to let the games go. Unbeknownst to her though, Burton has been moonlighting and working security in a strange game prototype, one vaguely recreating the city of London, albeit with a wilder imagination.
The money is good enough for Flynn to agree to take over Burton’s shifts for him, especially since he promised her this wasn’t a shooter like the games she used to play. However, soon she witnesses a brutal murder in the game, and begins to wonder whether or not there is something deeper and more sinister at play behind this virtual world.
On the other end of the arrow of time we have Wilf Netherton, living in 22nd century London, on the better side of an apocalypse which has been slowly swallowing the Earth. The discovery of some strange and derelict Chinese server has allowed people to reach into the past and create new timelines which continue forward on their own. It’s only a matter of time before Wilf and Flynn’s worlds crash against each other, and the unintended consequences of this collision promise to reach as far and wide as humanity can imagine.
Conspiracy theory’s got to be simple. Sense doesn’t come into it. People are more scared of how complicated shit actually is than they ever are about whatever is supposed to be behind the conspiracy.― William Gibson, The Peripheral
A World Threaded with Precision in The Peripheral
If you’re unfamiliar with William Gibson‘s style, especially as it was displayed in Neuromancer and its sequels, then I think you need to take a moment and learn about it before diving straight into the precipice. Different authors have their own styles and approaches to writing, and Gibson’s way of doing things requires a certain level of effort and involvement from the reader.
For starters, whereas many science-fiction and cyberpunk books will come with glossaries or take the time to define words and concepts alien to our reality, Gibson does no such thing in The Peripheral, nor in his other novels, as far as I’m aware. It’s up to the reader to try to put two and two together and orient themselves in a world completely foreign to them.
In addition, I’d say somewhere around twenty-five percent of the book is used to simply develop the setting and the characters populating it, with the plot advancing forward only by little increments here and there. If one doesn’t use their powers of deduction, memorization and lengthen their attention span, it does becomes fairly easy to fall victim to confusion and the impression of total senselessness.
I can quite easily see how this method of approach isn’t for every reader out there, but personally-speaking I quite enjoy the change of pace from all those thrillers and action-packed rides moving quicker than the speed of light. This is the first chapter of the trilogy, and William Gibson clearly uses it as a foundation for the rest of the story to come.
So, in my opinion, was this meticulous development of the world worth the sacrifice in terms of excitement? I’d say very much so, largely because the author not only has an exceptional talent for bringing inanimate objects and locales to life, but he also has an original vision for where technology might take us and the ramifications it could have on peoples’ daily lives as well as their psychological conditions. Additionally, he does take the opportunity to drum up mysteries and questions begging for answers, so it’s not like he ignores the plot completely.
Virtual Time Travel
If you’ll recall what I wrote before, William Gibson does spend the first quarter of the book setting up the stage, but after that, the pace does start to pick up quite visibly. While it doesn’t match the fury of an all-out thriller, it serves quite perfectly the plot at hand, divided into two narratives sailing towards each other.
I confess I felt uncertain on more than one occasion about how exactly the two narratives were supposed to join up together, and perhaps even more pressing, how much they would benefit from being merged into one. Naturally, I should have known better than to doubt Gibson‘s abilities, for he weaved them smoothly and almost seamlessly, making them feel not like two different stories combining to create one, but rather, two lost halves of the same story brought back together at last.
The principal topic at hand in this novel, time travel to a virtual world through a strange and mysterious server believed to exist somewhere in China, is, in my opinion, one of the more unique and original takes I’ve seen lately on a topic which has seen its depths plumbed quite extensively already. Somehow, Gibson succeeds where many authors have failed before him, managing to present the concept of time travel in a somewhat realistic manner, bound in a believable framework he doesn’t simply ask us to accept.
Naturally, the takes the time to explore in The Peripheral the various repercussions which might arise when people from different eras meet each other, from the small and quirky personal exchanges to the far-reaching implications for science and history. The way I see it, like many others before him, Gibson has shown time travel to be a can of worms we really ought to leave closed, should we one day find a way of prying it open.
While those of you who have read Gibson‘s previous bestselling trilogy might be expecting each novel to work as a standalone, it seems to me like this time around all the chapters will be interconnected, telling one long story from start to finish. While I wouldn’t say this book ends on a cliffhanger, answering quite a few questions and giving the reader a welcome sense of closure, many mysteries still live on, presumably to be answered in the sequels.
|512||Berkley||Oct. 6 2015||978-0425276235|
The Final Verdict
The Peripheral by William Gibson as an original and captivating science-fiction novel, combining elements of cyberpunk, time travel and even hard science-fiction in a story expertly weaving together two exciting narratives in a unique world, described deliberately to the last details and populated with characters who could pass for real people.
If you’re looking for a truly unusual cyberpunk story you can truly get lost in, or are a fan of William Gibson, and specifically The Sprawl Trilogy, then I strongly suggest you give this book a chance and see for yourself all it has to offer.
William Gibson is an American-Canadian writer and essayist whose greatest contribution to literature, to many, was pioneering the sub-genre of cyberpunk. Neuromancer is his most widely-acclaimed novel, his other notable works including Count Zero and Agency.
He is the recipient of the 1985 Nebula, Hugo, Philip K. Dick, 1995 Prix Aurora and 2016 Inkpot awards, not to mention his countless other nominations.